Beware Small Numbers

What’s a small number? How small is small? Well, that’s relative, of course. If you need to buy something for $10, that’s a small number. But if you need to buy a million $10 items, that’s not a small number. 

One of the oldest sales tricks in the book takes advantage of our feeling that a few dollars is a small number. I’m thinking of the late-night pitch that goes, “For only $1.29 per day, you can start enjoying our product right now.” This attempted sale is hoping that you won’t grab a calculator and figure that this purchase actually costs $470.85 a year. That calculation could be a deal killer if it triggers the anxiety you recently felt in Costco when contemplating, “Can I really afford $499 for a fancy new deck chair.” 

My personal pet peeve is the common scare tactic of shouting out, “You are THREE TIMES more likely… ” We are rarely given the absolute numbers allowing us to judge how meaningful three times is. 

Let’s say that a certain stretch of road experiences an average of one fatality per million user vehicles. There is an alternate route that sees three fatalities for the same number of user vehicles. It is absolutely true that you are three times more likely to die on the alternate stretch of highway. And there’s no doubt a giant blinking sign at the fork in the road that said “you are THREE TIMES more likely to die driving this road than the other” would influence your choice of routes. However, given the absolute fatality rate of one or three per million, you would likely shrug and say, “Yeah, accidents happen.” 

On the other hand, what if there is a brain condition that adversely affects 90 percent of all elderly people. Medical research finds a drug that reduces the number of affected people to 30 percent. Now, shouting out that the drug results in THREE TIMES fewer people suffering from this condition is a very meaningful small number. 

This month, I find Dr. Steffe’s Alternative Physical Therapy column on page 37 entitled “Intermittent Fasting” to be highly interesting. I have been an intermittent faster for over 20 years… long before I ever heard the term. For a long time now I have only taken one meal a day—a dinner, as late as 10 pm. I absolutely love this lifestyle because I don’t get hungry during the day and once I finally sit down to eat, I can totally pig out. 

Dr. Steffe does a great job of presenting all the technical details of intermittent fasting. He did not, however, mention a side benefit, and one of the early reasons that drove me to skip meals—saving time. As any entrepreneur will tell you, “Time is money.” The time spent on breakfast and lunch could be as much as an hour or two a day. Multiply that small number by 365 and you are burning from two weeks to a month a year doing nothing but eating! 

Beware small numbers.

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About The Author

Doug Kinzy

With a master’s in electronic engineering, Doug worked for major companies in that field before switching to real estate for 12 years. From that experience, he hatched the idea for Colorado Serenity and never looked back. Over years past, Doug filled his spare time with mountain climbing, skiing, cycling and programming. He now fills his time working with his longtime girlfriend—now wife—Serenity editor Holly Jorgensen, making Serenity the best it can be while occasionally running off to favorite Colorado hideouts.